Thursday, April 26, 2018

Harris Transfer & Warehouse Company

For a number of years one of our favorite places to eat in the UAB area has been the Fish Market Restaurant located very close to the Kirklin Clinic on 6th Avenue South. In 1982 George Sarris bought the operation from his uncle Jimmy Hontzas. In 2007 Sarris moved the eatery to its present location in the former Harris Transfer and Warehouse Company facility. The place has a Greek touch with a large menu, very good food and reasonable prices. The location in a former warehouse adds an interesting aspect to the dining experience.

Naturally, I've wondered about the history of that building, so let's investigate.

As the 1888 notice below tells us, a freight transfer line was established in Birmingham by George C. Harris in 1881. That first office was located--"conveniently"--upstairs at 5 20th Street. By the time this item was published, the firm even had a telephone. The business was "well and favorably known" and moved household goods, freight and even safes, which they would position for the customer.

In the 1910 U.S. Census we can find some information about Mr. Harris. He was born in Alabama in 1849, and had been married to wife Jamie for 35 years. He owned his home free of any mortgage and could read and write. His household had a total of ten people, including George C. Harris, Jr. His occupation is listed as "transfer man". The Alabama Deaths & Burials Index 1881-1974 gives his death date as January 26, 1912. 

As the BhamWiki entry on the company tells us, the firm's success continued in subsequent decades. By the late 1930's Harris Transfer Company had sixty trucks and three warehouses. You can see a photo of one of those trucks on that site. The company became one of the early partners with Allied Van Lines in creating a long-distance hauling system. 

In the 1990's the company fell on hard times, filed for bankruptcy and was liquidated. Floors above the Fish Market are used in a self-storage business.

Source: North Alabama Illlustrated, 1888, p. 144

Here's another view of that sign with UAB's Jefferson Tower looming in the background. 

A recent photo of the more or less outside dining area; main dining is to the right

Friday, April 20, 2018

Alabama Photos of the Day: the 1969 Sesquicentennial

The state of Alabama is currently in the midst of a multi-year bicentennial celebration. Congress admitted the Alabama Territory to the union on December 14, 1819. The Territory had been created on March 3, 1817. Events have been taking place all over the state to commemorate these important milestones and will continue through 2019.

In July 1968 Alabama Governor Albert Brewer established a Sesquicentennial Commission to develop and oversee activities commemorating the state's 150th  anniversary the following year. Below are some photographs and other materials related to that event and some further comments.

Sesquicentennial Commission at a restaurant lunch meeting in 1968

Left to right: Joe Farley, Judge C. J. Coley, Paul Felts, Mrs. William Nicrosi, Governor Albert Brewer, Katherine McTyeire, Harry Pritchett, George McBurney, and Milo B. Howard Jr. Howard was the director of the state archives. 

Another photo of a luncheon meeting

Left to right: Paul Felts, Judge C. J. Coley, Mrs. William Nicrosi, Joe Farley, Milo B. Howard Jr., Robert Rockhold (state coordinator, an employee of the Commission), Governor Albert Brewer, Katherine McTyeire, woman from Luckie Forney, Inc. (advertising firm employed by the Commission), and Martin Darity (with his back to the camera).

Members of the Alabama congressional delegation standing with the 22-star United States flag created by the Alabama Sesquicentennial Commission. The flag flew at the U.S. Capitol between 11:30 a.m. and noon on September 18, 1969. Among those pictured are George Andrews (third from left), John Sparkman (center), Katherine McTyeire (chairman of the Commission), and James B. Allen (fourth from right). 

Alabama's 22-star flag flying at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The flag flew between 11:30 a.m. and noon. Because Alabama was the twenty-second state admitted to the union, one of the commission's projects was the creation of this 22-star United States flag.

Milo Howard and Katherine McTyeire with a security guard before hoisting Alabama's 22-star flag over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. 

This stamp was issued on August 2, 1969, in Huntsville.

A variety of medals were issued celebrating the Sesquicentennial. You can see more on eBay

This book was an "Official Sesquicentennial Guide" and contained eight chapters on various "History Circle Tours" through the state. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Birmingham Photos of the Day (63): Quinlan Castle

Near Five Points South is one of Birmingham's most unusual and problematic buildings. The structure opened in 1927 as the Royal Arms Apartments and featured 72 efficiency units on four floors. William Weston designed the building; he also did such local landmarks as the Woodward, Age-Herald and City Federal buildings. Because of its design the building has been known as Quinlan Castle for many years.

The name is explained on the BhamWiki site. "The name of the building was adopted from Quinlan Avenue, the former name of 9th Avenue South which honored Bishop Quinlan of the Catholic Diocese of Mobile. Quinlan had purchased the hilltop and surrounding property as a potential site for Birmingham's first Catholic church."

The Castle was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 but continuing deterioration left it vacant by the 1990's. Various restoration and stabilization efforts have been made by various owners, including the city of Birmingham. Numerous proposals for use of the property have also surfaced over the years, but none came to fruition. In December 2008 the Castle was purchased by current owner and next door neighbor Southern Research, which has since done more stabilization work.  

The flags were flapping on a cold winter morning when I took these photos.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Allan Cemetery in Northern Shelby County

Heading east on Alabama 119 between I-65 and toward U.S. 280, you'll pass Oak Mountain Elementary and Middle Schools on your left. Not far beyond is Allan Cemetery and what looks like the shell of a former church. Let's investigate.

Back in 2011, Barry Wise Smith wrote an article for, "Hidden Haunts: Small, local cemeteries reveal Birmingham's early history." The Allan Cemetery is included in that group, so let me quote the text there which is a good introduction: 

"Located on Alabama Highway 119 in north Shelby County is the Allan Cemetery, established in 1835. Originally known as the Johnson Cemetery, for one of the first families to settle in the area, the name changed in the early 1900s. The land belonged to Rollin Johnson's great, great, great grandfather Col. Isaac Francis Johnson, who owned 400 to 500 acres. A doctor, Col. Johnson started the cemetery when his wife and two sons died in a yellow fever epidemic in 1835.
The old cemetery features names that are well known in Shelby County historical circles: Johnson, Bishop, Cross, Allan, Brasher, Gilbert and more. The oldest readable stone in the cemetery features a birth date of 1808. The graveyard has been surveyed and mapped by the Shelby County Historical Society and still is active with burials ongoing. The shell of the building that sits adjacent to the cemetery, often thought to be a church, is actually an old meeting hall that was built to host funerals, memorial services and revivals. "I remember going there as a kid," Johnson recalls. 'I even helped lay some of the floor boards.'
Down the road, hidden behind several residential developments, is an almost-forgotten graveyard that is home to a number of graves belonging to African-American descendants of slaves. The last names on the gravestones, a number of which are hand-carved, feature the same last names found in the Allan Cemetery. Many of the graves here are unmarked or simply marked with stones. Due to neglect, many of the sites are buried further under waist-high weeds."

The Heritage of Shelby County, Alabama, published in 1999 has an entry on the Allan Cemetery written by Rollin L. Johnson, Jr. [page 123]. In addition to the details in the Smith article, Johnson notes that for many years a "memorial day" was held at the cemetery on the second Sunday in June. The event actually began the previous Wednesday when the cemetery was cleaned. The gathering included dinner on the ground on Sunday and afterward a singing in the chapel. Children could play in Hooker Springs, the source of nearby Bishop Creek. Johnson writes that that "memorial day" and the scheduled cleaning no longer occur, but the cemetery is still worked by individuals with relatives and ancestors buried there.

I've passed by the cemetery many times, and recently Dianne and I stopped late one afternoon. A few of the photos I took are below, along with some further comments. Maybe another time I can locate the African-American cemetery nearby. 

Here's the cemetery sign today, not as well kept as in the photo below

Sign photo from Find-A-Grave taken by Bridget Slade

Front view and entrance of the meeting house

Right side view

View through a window of the raised stage area

Another view inside

Rear views of the buidling

Various Brashers are buried in the cemetery; here's a recent grave

The cemetery is nestled among a number of large trees. Once located in a very rural area distant from Birmingham, northern Shelby County's growth in recent decades now surrounds the cemetery. 

There are several Wrights buried here, but I don't think any are from my family lines.

Man's best friend is on alert at this grave.

You can sometimes find the Masonic symbol, the square and compass and often a letter in the center, on gravestones.  

Late afternoon sun illuminates some older graves

The cemetery has a single mausoleum that we found. 

Several gravestones include photographs of the deceased. Although still unusual, such photos are also seen today on new interments. 

One gravestone is a large cross.

This gravestone takes the form of an archway.

And of course there is a Woodman of the World headstone. This fraternal organization was founded in Omaha in 1890 and provides life insurance to members. An early benefit of membership was these markers, which were discontinued around 1930 due to cost. However, so many were created that they can be seen in cemeteries across America.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Lucy and Tallulah

Two of the most iconic actresses of the 20th century are Lucille Ball and Alabama native Tallulah Bankhead

Ball's career began in modeling in 1929, followed by a few years as chorus girl in various Broadway productions. She moved to Hollywood and made her first film appearance in 1933. During the 1930's and 1940's she had small or supporting roles in a number of movies, including one with the Marx Brothers and another with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and even a Three Stooges short. She also does a sexy turn as the private detective's secretary in the 1946 film noir The Dark Corner

In 1940 she married Cuban band leader Dezi Arnaz. By the early 1950's the two had a successful touring act with Lucy playing a housewife desperate to get into Arnaz's stage show. CBS-TV, which had already rejected a pilot from the couple, decided maybe such a program could succeed after all. I Love Lucy premiered on October 15, 1951, and the rest is history. The show became one of the most popular and influential comedies in the history of television. This show and its successors, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show, and Here's Lucy, kept its star on television almost continuously until 1974. 

Tallulah Bankhead's career had a different trajectory. She was born in Huntsville on January 31, 1902, into a prominent political family. Her father, grandfather and uncle all served as U.S. Congressmen from Alabama; her aunt Marie would succeed her husband Thomas Owen as head of the state archives. She grew up mostly in Jasper or Montgomery with relatives and when older in New York. She and sister Eugenia were in and out of public, private and boarding schools in Alabama, New York and other places. 

When she was fifteen Tallulah entered a movie magazine contest hoping to win a screen test. She won, and her father reluctantly allowed her to go to New York in the company of one of her aunts. Over the next several years she played small roles in several silent films and Broadway plays. 

By 1923 she was on her own in London, and the celebrity Tallulah began to take shape. Over the next eight years she worked in a dozen plays, mostly poorly received except the 1926 London version of Sidney Howard's Pulitzer-winning They Knew What They Wanted. Yet she became one of the few people in England recognized by first name only. She was a society darling with her beauty, wit, affairs and daring outfits. One incident in particular attracted much notice. She attended a boxing match in Germany featuring fellow Alabama native Joe Louis and German Max Schmeling. Tallulah spiced up the match by shouting obscenities at the Nazis present. 

In 1931 she left the depressed theater industry in London and moved to Hollywood with a contract from Paramount Pictures. Although her costars in six films included Charles Laughton, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant, none of the movies clicked with the public. For five years in the 1930's she also appeared on Broadway, again in less than stellar productions. She tested for the part of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, but despite interest from David O. Selznick she was ultimately deemed too old--at 34. In 1937 she married fellow actor John Emery at her grandmother's home in Jasper--but they divorced with no children in 1941.

In 1939 Tallulah's career on Broadway took a successful turn. She played Regina, the lead role in The Little Foxes, written by Lillian Hellman and based on her mother's upscale family in Demopolis. In 1942 she starred in a successful production of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. Both performances won her New York Drama Critics Awards, and she toured the country in each after their Broadway runs ended. Life magazine put the actress on the cover as Regina for its March 6, 1939 issue. In 1948 her appearance in a revival of Noel Coward's Private Lives put her on the cover of Time. She also had a major role in Alfred Hitchcock's 1944 film Lifeboat; one of her co-stars was fellow Alabamian Mary Anderson.

By 1950 film and Broadway roles were becoming scarce for Tallulah as she reached age 48. She simply began another career in radio. From 1950 until 1952 she hosted the variety program The Big Show on Sunday nights. Her enthusiasm and wit, combined with guests ranging from Groucho Marx and Judy Garland to Louis Armstrong and Margaret Truman made the program a big success. Despite that, advertisers were moving to television, and when the show ended Tallulah found herself a frequent guest on variety shows there. She also wrote her autobiography, which promptly sold ten million copies.

Before her death in 1968, Tallulah had a few more stage and film roles and even played the Black Widow in a 1967 episode of Batman. She also made two appearances on different Lucille Ball shows, one in the flesh and one in spirit. Explanations are below the photos.

"Lucy Fakes Illness" broadcast on December 18, 1951, is the 16th episode of I Love Lucy's first season. Lucy claims if Ricky doesn't hire her for his nightclub act, she'll have a nervous breakdown. One of her "symptoms" is the delusion she is Tallulah Bankhead. Lucy has the look down, doesn't she? At the time of this broadcast Tallulah was in the midst of her popular radio show. 

Miss Bankhead herself appeared on the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour in "The Celebrity Next Door," a 60-minute episode broadcast on December 3, 1957.

Lucy learns that her new neighbor is Tallulah Bankhead, so she tries to impress her with a dinner party at which Fred and Ethel pose as the help. Of course, a feud erupts between Lucy and Tallulah, but by the time the episode ends Lucy has everyone participating in a PTA show at Little Ricky's school.

Bette Davis was originally slated to star as the next door celebrity, but a horseback riding accident prevented her appearance. Bankhead was second choice. The reversal seems appropriate, since Davis played Bankhead's Broadway role in the film version of The Little Foxes.

The episode is full of spicy exchanges with Lucy and responses from Tallulah; you can read a few here.

Desi, Lucy & Tallulah in the 1957 episode

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Alabama Photos of the Day: Carol Highsmith's Motel

For a number of years Carol Highsmith has photographed the American scene--people, places, buildings, urban, and rural. She has worked in all 50 states and has been donating her life's work, more than 100,000 images, to the Library of Congress. All of them are in the public domain free of copyright restrictions.  

In 2010 she spent time in Alabama; I have used some of those photographs on my daily bursts on Twitter account @ajwright31. You can find more than 4100 of her photos shot in the state here.

Below are four of her photographs of the Alabama Motel taken in a rural part of the state on May 9, 2010. No other identification is given. Anyone recognize this place?